You may not know his name, but if you’ve watched any film or television in the last three decades you’ve likely seen his face. Spencer Garrett also plays Chick Hearn the legendary Lakers announcer in the upcoming HBO series Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty. Garrett is a journeyman actor, and his advice for aspiring performers is the very same wisdom entrepreneurs can take to the bank.
Learn From those Who Came Before You
Garrett has great reverence not just for his family, but for the acting greats who have come before. And like any good entrepreneur he understands the value of studying those who have already accomplished what you want to do, rather than reinventing the wheel.
A third-generation actor, Garrett grew up around show business. His grandparents operated and lived on a showboat, in a bygone era when these colorful luxury vessels—with everything from gambling to restaurants and live entertainment—dominated America’s Midwestern rivers. For Spencer’s family, it was the Goldenrod, and it was docked on the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Spencer’s grandparents ran a floating theater, and this love for sharing performance with the world has been passed down through the generations of his esteemed family.
His mother was a television star in the sixties and seventies, and notably was the first female president of the Screen Actors Guild. “There was a part of me that wanted to see if I could do what my grandparents did,” Garrett says. “I had a lot of that in my blood and in my bones growing up. I guess you could say I got my start because I wanted to test the waters when I was young and see if it was something I was any good at. And, you know…I’m still trying to figure it out.”
Since his early days, Garrett has worked with dozens and dozens of superstars, and repeatedly talks about what he learned from each of them. He studies classic films, is still in class himself, and has a learning mindset we can all aspire to.
Build a Community
Garrett speaks with fondness about the monthly dinners he has with C.A.D.S. or Character Actors Dining Society. A group of fellow character actors such as Steven Weber, Laurence Fishburne, Titus Welliver, Jason Alexander, Eric McCormack, Alfred Molina, Kevin Pollak, Michael McKean, LaVar Burton and several others who have graced our television screens for decades.
These meetings are a reminder of the power of community, of building a network. Not from a place of trying to get something, but to connect and give back. There is invaluable wisdom to be gained from surrounding oneself with veterans of your industry who have seen and done it all.
It’s clear that the community Garrett has fostered over the years has been key not just to his success, but his ability to remain jovial and optimistic—even when times are hard. Having the support of others who understand the challenges.
He reminds us to look at who we’re surrounded by, and to build a community of like-minded, successful people.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
There is tremendous value in learning from others, but Garrett also understands that to truly create extraordinary results, will require you stepping outside of your comfort zone.
After some time in Los Angeles, Garrett found an interesting niche in LA’s television scene, playing a series of similar roles he affectionately called “pricks in suits.”
In stark contrast to Garrett’s compassion and depth, his television career began “playing a lot of smarmy, yuppy lawyers and bent politicians and, you know—just a lot, a lot of guys in suits and ties that were sort of morally questionable.”
I kind of had become the go-to guy. I’m playing those guys on television at least, and making a comfortable living, but I wasn’t feeling particularly challenged. I think I’d sort of settled into this comfortable couch of ‘Oh I know if I get the call to go in and read for Law and Order and the DA is self-serving and smarmy, I’ll probably get it.’ I played a lot of those guys.”
Things changed once he auditioned for a movie called Public Enemies, which saw a radical change of pace for him thanks to some advice by the casting director.
“Michael Mann, one of my favorite directors and somebody that I really admire, had a character that was an ex-boxer, kind of a thug like in Chicago, something that I wasn’t really used to playing. All I wanted to do was play characters and be a character actor, so I got this audition and I went to the casting director, Bonnie Timmerman, and asked to read for the FBI guy. She said, ‘Spencer, I’ve been following you for a long time. And I know you’re good at playing those guys in suits. I don’t want to see you do that anymore. I think you’re better than that.That’s why I brought you in to read for this character of Tommy Carroll. Come back tomorrow and bring me this guy.’ And I came back the next day. She gave me the agency to work on it some more. She gave me a gift. I came in and I nailed the audition.”
Stepping outside your own comfort zone may not mean playing a murderous villain such as his character Tommy Carroll, but pay attention to what will be a stretch for you. If you want results you haven’t had before, you get to do things you haven’t done before either.
“Part of what makes acting glorious is you need to challenge yourself. You need to step outside your own comfort zone. Constantly challenge yourself…dare to suck.”
Be Authentically You
Set to play real-life commentator and Lakers announcer Chuck Hearn, Garrett’s upcoming role represents another shift for the actor. There’s an interesting balance he must strike, finding on a personal level how to bring life to someone who’s written in a script and the historical person who actually existed outside of it:
“I played a lot of real-life characters, but a lot of times you don’t have the luxury of being able to do the research and rehearse and all of that. In this case, I had an entire year because of COVID to immerse myself….watching old film of Chick Hearn and watching the Lakers, listening to his voice, doing all that kind of homework.”
“To a certain extent, I’m trying to recreate Chick Hearn. I’ve studied his mannerisms, and I studied his vocal patterns, so there’s a part of me that feels obligated to honor this guy by playing him as him the best I can. And at the same time, the way he’s written is already very much as Chick Hearn would’ve spoken and acted, so I get to put my own little spin on the ball as well. I’m not doing an impersonation, I’m doing a simulation! I want to be able to make him mine as much as possible.”
Garrett reminds all of us that whether we’re gearing up for a performance in a major television show, or preparing a presentation to potential investors, the unique flair that each of us has is paramount.